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Notes: Solent Freeport Background

Our statement regarding the Solent Freeport at the New Forest National Park Authority meeting on 20th October 2022 included these Notes and Footnotes for the benefit of the Authority Members.

Further context is in THIS article (forthcoming).

NOTES:

New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis submitted a question about the seeming inclusion of the whole of the New Forest in the provisional boundary of the Freeport.

LEVELLING UP, HOUSING & COMMUNITIES – SOLENT FREEPORT [53254] – 21 September 2022

Dr Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, for what reason the entirety of the New Forest has been included within the provisional boundary of the proposed Solent Freeport.  [53254]

[Due for Answer on 11 October.]

ANSWER

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up (Dehenna Davison):  By delivering investment on specific priority sites, Freeports will create thousands of high-quality jobs in some of our most disadvantaged communities. These sites have been carefully selected for their suitability for development by the local Freeport coalition, which comprises key private partners and Local Authorities who, importantly, provide democratic accountability for the actions of the Freeport. The development sites sit within an ‘outer boundary’ which sets the limit for how far apart they can be and broadly indicates the area they expect to benefit most directly from the Freeport’s economic impacts. While the Solent Freeport outer boundary intersects with the New Forest National Park, this in no way means that the area has been earmarked for development nor does this confer any special planning status. Local authorities retain all their statutory powers and responsibilities, including responsibility for providing planning permission. Freeport status in no way undercuts the local planning process and there is no change to the current planning and environment status of national parks.

https://www.julianlewis.net/covid-written-parliamentary-questions/levelling-housing-communities-solent-freeport

The Government’s assurances in their reply to Julian Lewis [above] do not mention or reaffirm the Duty of Regard to the National Park in the planning process, and given that this government and its predecessors have failed to bolster environment legislation (and may even further dilute), had Natural England assess their own proposals below the standards demanded by legislation, systematically defunded both Parks and the agencies relevant for delivery of environmental and habitat, their ambitious targets seem hollow promises.

 

ENDNOTES:

[i] Statement on NFDC Website, 14 October 2022

No changes to planning and environmental protection says New Forest District Council

New Forest District Council leader, Cllr Edward Heron has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in response to the call for expressions of interest to become an Investment Zone which was announced by government on 24 September 2022.

The letter reiterates that as a partner in the Solent Freeport, we are keen to secure the greatest benefits for their residents, as well as the local area.

Councillor Edward Heron writes:

“Within the government’s recent Investment Zone opportunity there is much that aligns and enhances the Freeport benefits, both to the tax site areas, and the wider District. The financial incentives are significantly enhanced and it is important that our businesses and developers have the opportunity to benefit from this new offer. For example, securing tax incentives over a 10 year period to 2032 rather than the current Freeport period which expires in 2026 and will make these sites significantly more attractive as a place to locate businesses.

We are keen therefore to explore with Government, and our partners what an Investment Zone could deliver for the Solent Freeport and ultimately our residents and our environment now and in the future, and I have therefore supported the Solent Freeport Board’s expression of interest submitted today.”

The announcement from government made it clear that Investment Zones would only be taken forwards with the support of the Local Planning Authority.

The letter from Cllr Edward Heron goes on to say:

“New Forest District Council supported the Freeport on the basis that the designation would not impact on the statutory planning process that a landowner would need to go through, to seek consent to develop the site.

The indication of support from this Council as the local planning authority is based on the understanding that the current level of environmental protection is assured for the future and on the clear and unequivocal understanding that conversion of the Solent Freeport to an Investment Zone will not include a streamlining of planning, deregulation, or a dilution of the environmental protections that are currently in place. Should this not be the case, then the Council would not support the designation of the Freeport Tax Site within the District as an Investment Zone.

I understand that this commitment is shared by the Freeport Board and we look forward to shaping a unique Investment Zone that delivers sustainable and inclusive growth for the New Forest and wider region.”

The increased Freeport opportunities for investment, regeneration, and employment were endorsed by us during the submission of the Solent Freeport business case to the government in March 2022. The business case carefully considered the Freeport within the context of the environmental designation across the area, working to focus on net zero, green recovery and strengthening the environment.

The Solent Freeport focuses on the Council’s Waterside area with the Waterfront tax site covering four specific landholdings; the former Fawley Power Station, Exxon Mobil, ABP’s Strategic Land Reserve and Marchwood Port (Solent Gateway). The whole District, including the New Forest National Park, is included in the Freeport outer boundary which is intended to ensure that the potential funding and broader benefits from the Freeport can be focused across the whole area.

https://www.newforest.gov.uk/article/3167/No-changes-to-planning-and-environmental-protection-says-New-Forest-District-Council

[ii] The Solent Protection Society review of the Solent LEP’s Freeport Consultation response makes these observations (quotes from the LEP response in italics):

Given the large number of local authorities across the Solent Freeport region, Solent LEP go further, proposing “the establishment of a special Virtual Planning Authority that is facilitated by a coordinating institution with the cooperation of relevant local authorities”. This is a direction which Solent Protection Society believe should be pursued with great caution. There are already well publicised proposals, for example the Aquind Interconnector project near Portsmouth and the Southern Water desalination plant near Fawley, where opportunities for public and local authority scrutiny are being overridden by central governments’ declaration of the initiative as a ‘National Infrastructure Development Project’.

The Solent LEP response also proposes “extending the permitted development rights accorded to ports to include assembly and manufacturing though they believe this would still not improve the planning environment enough to act as an incentive to potential investors. While the expansion of permitted development rights would simplify development processes on seaport land, it would still not allow for the greater freedoms or coordination in higher-level planning required to ensure Freeport success.

In what might seem to some a worrying threat to environmental standards, the Solent LEP go further, suggesting that “existing environmental regulations along much of the UK coastline supersede Permitted Development Rights, further limiting their additional value as an incentive”.

https://solentprotection.org/2021/05/11/what-might-the-solent-freeport-mean-for-the-solent-area/

 

Their updated analysis of Freeport Tax Sites including noting that Dibden Bay is listed as both a Tax and Customs Site (for those trying to disabuse the notion of its development as a port facility).  This notes particularly:

Marchwood Port / ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ – Solent Gateway / ABP

Tax site type – Existing Facility / Greenfield
Customs Site – Marchwood Port / ABP ‘Strategic Land Reserve’
Assumed programme delivery priority – High/Medium

It is notable that ABP have only submitted the northern part of their Dibden Bay ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ for definition as a Freeport tax site. Leaving the southern part of the Dibden Bay site out of the Freeport definition enables ABP to retain an option to keep this part of the ‘Strategic Land Reserve’ for future expansion of its non-freeport operations from the eastern shore.

Current environmental regulations give the Dibden Bay shoreline some level of protection from development, however once the freeport is in operation, developments within its boundary will benefit from the government’s proposed relaxation of planning regulations within freeports. As SPS observed in our report from May 2021, the Solent LEP at page 17 of their consultation response suggested that permitted development rights in freeports should be extended to enable those rights to supersede existing environmental development regulations.

Once development of the northern part of the Dibden Bay shoreline has been permitted under the freeport rules, then a precedent would have been set which could then be used to attempt to override the existing environmental protections outside the freeport boundary in the southern part of the ABP ‘Strategic Land Reserve’.

https://solentprotection.org/2022/03/21/solent-freeport-tax-sites/

[iii] Two bills effecting planning, with overlapping goals for growth are still proceeding forward, expect if one falls the other to remain:

https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1801329/expect-planning-infrastructure-bill

https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1801044/levelling-bill-cards-says-housing-minister-despite-rumours-contrary

 

[iv] Interview with outgoing ABP exec Doug Morrison [including claims for future of Dibden Bay]:
http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/10914052.Port_expansion_will_happen__says_outgoing_boss/

https://solentprotection.org/2014/01/05/dibden-bay-yet/

 

[v] Report to NF NPA Meeting 20/10/2022 by David Illsley, this is the paper that the Authority were to discuss after our  statement in Public Questions.  It outlines the lack of clear guidance from Government surrounding the Investment Zones, issues of implications of the Freeport and Investment Zones on the National Park, and options for the Members to support.
https://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/app/uploads/2021/12/AM-637-22-Solent-Freeport-and-Investment-Zones-update-October-22-Authority-report-1.pdf

 

[vi] The Duty of Regard has already been eroded by NFDC in their most recent local plan:

During the 2019 examination both the Wildlife Trust and RSPB stated categorically that not only had the NFDC failed to show the efficacy of their current mitigation, but NFDC had in no way shown that they could possibly mitigate for their four-fold increase in housing development in the new plan. (also see Endnote ix below)

[vii] HCC failed to initiate the most basic habitat assessment before or since consultations around the proposals for widening the A326. Also, given the years of NFDC consistently overdeveloping the Waterside and permitting development up to the edge of the road, any widening will inevitably impinge on the Forest.

viii] The Campaign For National Parks wrote a brief analysis of the Investment Zones and Freeports, (including the claim that the current sea life disaster off the North York Moors coast are due to dredging at Teesside):

“The Government’s proposed Investment Zones may impact 7 National Parks and 29 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – together accounting for 2 million hectares of our most special landscapes. This follows announcements on Freeports that include the New Forest, Dartmoor and North York Moors National Parks, along with many AONBs, within their boundaries. We only need to look at the ecological disaster unfolding on the North York Moors coast, with growing evidence suggesting this is a direct effect of the Teesside Freeport, to know that unregulated development in these precious landscapes would not end well.”

https://www.cnp.org.uk/blog/%E2%80%9Cnot-blind-opposition-progress-opposition-blind-progress%E2%80%9D

 

Their comments on the Government’s Response:

There is much to be concerned about in the current Government’s proposals to boost growth by “liberalising” planning and doing away with many vital environmental protections. One of the things we’re most concerned about is the proposed investment zones which, as analysis we published last week shows, could impact seven National Parks and 29 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). These areas account for a combined 2 million hectares of landscape, pulling in 250 million visitors last year, and generating an annual economic contribution of £24 billion.

We wrote to Simon Clarke, the new Secretary of State responsible for planning, to highlight these concerns and seek a formal commitment to excluding National Parks and AONBs from investment zones. Our letter also asked for reassurances that there will be no downgrading or removal of the additional planning protections which apply in these areas, including the presumption against major development.

We’ve now had a response from Simon Clarke, which makes lots of positive references to the benefits National Parks deliver, but unfortunately doesn’t give us the reassurances we need. It is good to see that the Secretary of State recognises the contribution of these Protected Landscapes to our identity, economy and environment, and his acknowledgement of the important role for these areas in achieving nature recovery commitments. But rather than ruling out any possibility of investment zones in Protected Landscapes, he says that they will only be allowed where there is local consent.

This doesn’t give us the reassurance we need. The Secretary of State must go further and confirm that there is no way that Investment Zones will go ahead in National Parks and AONBs. Placing the emphasis on local planning authorities to make those decisions brings huge risks, particularly for AONBs which are not planning authorities and have no formal role in decision making. Indeed, the Government set out proposals in the Landscapes Review earlier this year to make AONBs statutory consultees for planning precisely because they don’t currently have a strong enough role in planning decisions.

Dr Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive of Campaign for National Parks said: “We welcome warm words from the Secretary of State, but we need to see firm commitments in policy that Investment Zones will not go ahead in National Parks and AONBs.”

Campaign for National Parks is also very concerned about the impact that investment zones in other areas close to their boundaries could have on National Parks and AONBs. Increased development in neighbouring areas will only increase pressure for new roads and other infrastructure inside Protected Landscapes.

Rose added: “It is absolutely vital that our Protected Landscapes are protected from the impacts of damaging development outside their boundaries too. We only need to look at the ecological disaster unfolding off the coast of the North York Moors National Park, and the growing evidence linking this to the neighbouring Teesside Freeport, to see why it’s so important to protect our most precious landscapes from unregulated development.”

Campaign for National Parks fought for the creation of National Parks over 70 years ago. That they, and AONBs, have been stewarded safely and protected from irresponsible development ever since is one of the biggest successes in public policy in this country. The rules in place to protect them are not “burdensome requirements”: they are a vital part of ensuring we pass this inheritance to future generations.

https://www.cnp.org.uk/news/warm-words-are-not-enough-we-need-firm-commitments-planning-system

The ongoing issues with Teesside Freeport dredging and the DEFRA response to mass sea life poisoning, noted in the CNP’s response:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2340893-whats-causing-a-mass-die-off-of-crabs-on-the-uk-coast/

The RSPB response to recent proposals including “Investment Zones”
https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/millions-called-on-to-stand-up-for-wildlife/

 

[ix] Additionally, the conservation charities agreed with the NFA contention that the mitigation regimes inappropriately use the formula developed by Natural England for Thames Basin Heaths, which does not scale appropriately to the Forest because a) the Forest is much richer in features and biodiversity at threat and should cost developers more b) the morphology of the Forest is different: Thames Basin Heaths spatially has greater opportunity for alternative spaces, where the Forest, surrounded, creates more of a siege situation (with only one major SANG to the West at Moors Valley, and plans for similar facilities to the East not yet realized).

NFDC’s standards for SANG’s are not sufficient to create landscape scale alternatives for recreation of sufficient quality to take pressure off the New Forest.  Initiatives to create effective and meaningful landscape scale mitigation projects to relieve recreation pressure on the Forest have been stalled continually, but their fruition should have been a prerequisite to any further development within the District.   A HIOW Wildlife Trust assessment of greenspace provision within Hampshire ranked NFDC third from bottom, just above Portsmouth and Southampton, yet developers seek to erode the NFDC’s already minimal standards for SANG delivery.   The Plan released Green Belt sites for development, rather than considering its potential for large landscape scale alternative greenspace for mitigation.

The Plan also undermined Duty of Regard by making the Fawley Waterside allocation dependent on the destruction of a SINC (Site of Interest to Nature Conservation) within the National Park, which was opposed by some National Park members.

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Declaration from National Parks Movement to Strengthen Protected Landscapes

The annual National Parks Societies Conference was held in Snowdonia last week.

Recognising the present scale of the nature and climate emergency, the Friends of the New Forest proposed a resolution calling on governments in England and Wales to give Protected Landscapes (National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) their full backing in legislation. This was unanimously agreed by all National Park Societies and Campaign for National Parks who signed the joint declaration below

Declaration from the National Parks Movement:

At a time of nature and climate emergency, we must retain and strengthen the laws and policies which protect the Protected Landscapes of Wales and England. This means there must be:

  • No weakening, or removal, of vital European legislation such as the Habitats Regulations;
  • Effective schemes of support for farmers and land managers which safeguard rural livelihoods, reinforce nature’s recovery, and promote public access; and
  • A principle of safeguarding the additional planning protections which are crucial for Protected Landscapes.

We need to and will strongly support governments’ commitments to new purposes, duties and powers to ensure that Protected Landscapes can deliver more for nature, climate and people in future.

The statement was signed by the following organisations:

Campaign for National Parks, The Broads Society, Snowdonia Society,
Dartmoor Preservation Association, The Exmoor Society, Friends of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Friends of the Brecon Beacons, Friends of the Dales, Friends of the Lake District, Friends of the New Forest, Friends of the Peak District, Friends of the South Downs, North Yorkshire Moors Association

Delegates at the Conference (photo CNP)

This declaration will be used to engage with Parliamentarians and demand they do more to back National Parks and ensure their protection.

John Ward, Chairman of the Friends of the New Forest agreed with Dr Rose O’Neill, Chief Executive of the Campaign for National Parks that it was fantastic to see the National Parks movement in England and Wales come together to make a powerful, positive case for why these landscapes matter.

Unfortunately the signals we are getting from the UK Government in Westminster suggests they are heading in the wrong direction. Any government who is seen to be undermining these aspirations risks suffering a political price at the next election.

Just CLICK HERE to register your support for this Declaration

 

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NFA Council and Trustees 2017-18

With our AGM fast approaching on Saturday 21st April 2018, this and next week we’ll feature our annual reports. NFA Chair John Ward reports on the work of our council and trustees on both this year’s work and our 150th Anniversary celebrations.

Formal meetings of Council were held six times and for the Board of Trustees four times during 2017. In addition there were regular meetings of the Habitats and Landscape Committee and the Planning and Transport Committee; and also ad hoc meetings of the Education Working Group. At the end of 2017 there were eight trustees and sixteen nontrustee members of Council.

We have continued to share issues and experiences with other National Park Societies and as a Council member of the Campaign for National Parks (CNP): and have collaborated with them to co-ordinate responses to government and other national consultations and draft proposals that will affect National Parks. Examples of national consultations and draft proposals with implications for the New Forest that have crossed our desks in 2017 include:

  • Department of Transport consultation on the future of strategic roads
  • Emergency Services Network (ESN) – mobile communications
  • Campaign for Better Transport Report
  • Ofgem open letter on RIIO-2 Framework
  • Electricity transmission owner stakeholder consultation
  • Government Housing White Paper
  • Government proposals for Permitted Development Rights
  • Proposed UK Minerals Strategy

We have held informal liaison meetings with the National Park Authority and Forestry Commission; and attend various New Forest forums and working groups including the Consultative Panel and meetings of the Verderers Court. The Friends of the New Forest were in evidence on stands at the New Forest Show and at Roydon Woods Woodfair. Sponsorship funding support was given for the animal accident ‘advert’ on the back of the New Forest Tour bus through 2017; and also for the ‘Our Past Our Future’ projects for ranger training and for habitat restoration. The Association had previously committed to support the project to develop housing for commoners at Rockford farm and during 2017 we contributed to the costs of preparing drawings and making a planning application. On the research side we made a funding contribution to the New Forest Curlew Project.

2017 was, of course, our 150th Anniversary year. At the end of 2016 we launched “Saving the New Forest”, the book written by Peter Roberts telling the story of our Association. It has been selling well throughout 2017. The story of the Association and the New Forest from the mid 19th century until today was put together into a slide show presentation. This has been given to more than 20 groups, reaching over 1,000 people most of whom had not previously heard of us and gaining donations to support our work to protect the Forest.

We organised and hosted the National Parks Societies annual conference, held this year in October at Balmer Lawn Hotel and attended by 50 delegates from other national parks, the Campaign for National Parks, other national bodies and New Forest organisations.

During the year our Anniversary programme provided 16 events. Walks and visits included, the Verderers Court and Lyndhurst Church, Archaeology in Sloden Inclosure, Caring for Pondhead Inclosure, Needs Ore, Rockford and a Fungi Walk at Rans Wood. Following the AGM there were options to visit Furzey Gardens or Minstead Study Centre.

Two events were held specifically to celebrate the 150-year anniversary:

  • Lunch at MJs restaurant was attended by our Patron, Belinda Lady Montagu, and President, Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre, together with NFA members and trustees, affiliated Parishes and representatives from the Forestry Commission, Verderers, Commoners and National Park Authority.
  • Council members and invited guests gathered at the Crown Hotel in Lyndhurst on the 22nd of July to raise a glass and mark the day on which the New Forest Association was founded.

We held two receptions and exhibition private views – The New Forest Open Art Exhibition at the New Forest Centre, and New Forest Bird Sculpture by Geoffrey Dashwood at St Barbe Museum and Gallery.

Purely social events proved to be less popular with Friends of the New Forest and a summer garden party and an autumn golf day were cancelled due to lack of support. Unfortunately the intended Frohawk Walk was also cancelled at short notice due to a gypsy drive-in clashing with this event. Ours was not the only anniversary this year. It was the 800th anniversary of the New Forest Charter and panels about the New Forest Association were included in a display at the New Forest Centre. In November we hosted a small delegation from the Anglo-Portuguese community who visited the New Forest in November to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of 150 Portuguese troops to assist with timber production for the war effort.

Two large events for 200 people, both of which were booked out with waiting lists, provided the bookends for the Anniversary Year.

The first was “What Future for the New Forest – A Foot in the Past and an Eye to the Future”, with a keynote address from Council member, Clive Chatters followed by responses from Alison Barnes, Chief Executive of the New Forest National Park Authority, Bruce Rothney, Deputy Surveyor for the New Forest and Dominic May, Official Verderer, together with the audience. Clive identified the management of recreation in the Forest as being a key issue, and concluded that ‘this generation’s responsibility to secure the future of the Forest now lies with us’. By the end of the evening there seemed to be an emerging consensus, particularly with respect to recreation management, that it feels like ‘one of those moments for bold decision making’.

Our final, very well attended event was “An Evening of New Forest Films with Lord Montagu”. This was hosted at the John Montagu Theatre in the Beaulieu Motor Museum, and featured a fascinating array of archive footage of the Forest, some not publicly viewed previously. We thank both Lord Montagu and Dr. Manuel Hinge for this most fitting closing event for our Anniversary year, and their untiring efforts to preserve films that provide an historical, cultural, and community window on the Forest.

Recreation management continued to be a major issue for us through the year. There have been several presentments to the Verderers Court echoing similar concerns, and at the New Forest Show the National Park Authority launched a consultation on reviewing their Recreation Management Strategy. We responded to this consultation and also opened up a dialogue on the subject with the Forestry Commission. We believe this is the most pressing issue needing to be addressed within the Forest and significant action must to be taken to review and change the recreation infrastructure within the Forest. To succeed his must be driven by the statutory authorities with as much vision as those who implemented the 1971 Conservation of the New Forest proposals and not just end in fine words but with little tangible effect.

Chair – John Ward

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